Handbook

Curriculum Overview

In order to create a learning environment that mirrors real-world learning, we utilize a variety of methodologies, as described in detail in the Pedagogy and Methods section under Philosophy. Our intention is to facilitate learning that is immersed in the natural world, integrates and connects many traditional content areas within projects, and engages students – providing opportunities for student choice and decision-making. Many of these projects extend beyond the classroom into the community. Learning is assessed through alternative and traditional means, including application of skills, portfolios, presentations, and standardized and diagnostic assessments.

Meeting Children’s Individual Learning Needs

A team of professionals provide special services and assessment on an as-needed basis. These include the Intervention and Referral Services Team, Child Study Team, Case Manager, and therapists. Susan Corcoran is the 504 Officer at our school.

If you have any concern about your specific student’s progress, please make an appointment to discuss it with the guide(s).

Organization of Our Curriculum Framework

To facilitate learning experiences that will provide students with the awareness and tools they need, we organize our curriculum framework within the following three layers: Yearly Integrating Lenses, Key Learning Experiences and Seasonally-based Trimesters. All content, including the NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards, is woven into this structure to create relevant, meaningful and tangible understandings that are integral to our students‘ success as leaders, now and in the future. More information on the overall curriculum can be found in our Curriculum Framework, attached here.

Yearly Integrating Lenses

The interdisciplinary content, multi-age groupings and system thinking aspects of learning at RVCS lend themselves to experiences viewed through wide, yearlong lenses that loop over a period of 2-3 years. These integrating lenses, explained in more detail in the following pages, are intended to highlight the relationships among seemingly unrelated elements for a more holistic awareness of the larger, interrelated and interdependent systems that comprise the natural and human-made worlds. Each lens represents a biological process and/or relationship with the intention that, by studying all content areas and historical perspectives through this lens, students will come to see the correlations and analogies between the human and natural world experiences, therefore deepening their compassion for, understanding of, and connection to our planet and the entire Universe.

The cyclical nature of the lenses ensures that all students will experience the most important content over the course of their time on the team. Students can begin with any of the lenses when they enter a new team, rotating through all of them before moving on to the next team. For instance, a student joining the Galaxy Team might begin with Emergence or Transformation, and end their time on the team with Reciprocity.

Key Learning Experiences

In addition to focused study in the fundamental skills of reading, writing and math, we have chosen to organize our instruction into interdisciplinary Key Learning Experiences, instead of separate content areas. Our intention is to articulate a curriculum that will cultivate Earth Literacy and sustainable living practices through practical applications of knowledge and skills within hands-on experiences in a larger, systems-thinking context.

Our four Key Learning Experiences (KLEs), listed below, offer students opportunities to develop critical knowledge, skills and problem-solving capabilities within practical, empowering, real-world experiences. Although the focus of the content changes each year as defined by the integrating lens, the Key Learning Experiences remain constant as the means for exploring all content, K-8.

  • Relating: Energetics & Community: focuses on the dynamic interplay between time, space, matter and energy that results in light, sound, movement, expression, communication (both verbal and non-verbal) and group/community dynamics and systems. Student will explore these understandings through a variety of experiences and different species‘ perspectives such as: how sound evolved into music and language; verbal and non-verbal communication within and across species and its impact on group dynamics; the evolution of language – written and spoken; Greek and Latin language roots; the study of communities (microbe, plant, animal, human); the study of human governmental systems (historical place, similarities/differences, reasons for success/failure, etc.); tracking; yoga; and dance.
  • Exploring: Elements & Expeditions: focuses on reconnection with, and immersion in, the natural world in a way that is fun and exciting as well as safe and respectful. This KLE teaches environmental awareness, responsibility and ethics as well as skills for living in an outdoor environment comfortably, safely and with little or no impact. As a means of exploring these concepts students will engage in many experiences including short-term and extended low/no-impact hiking, camping and expeditions; quiet, individual immersion in, and observations of, nature including the night sky; nap making and orienteering; teambuilding and personal challenge experiences; and culminating experiences such as Earth Olympics and multi-day expeditions.
  • Designing: Beauty & Function: focuses on the impulse for creative expression that arises through the design and construction of functional and/or beautiful (and ideally sustainable!) tools, art, structures, organisms and systems. Student will explore these concepts through the examination of the things around them – from common objects to the design of the very systems in which they live – always with an eye to sustainability. They will explore the intention behind a design and whether or not that intention was achieved. They will take part in a variety of experiences such as: designing simple tools from common objects; learning the safe use and care of tools; identifying the resourcefulness and lack of waste demonstrated by local creatures in their design process; carving & whittling; finger knitting; weaving, papermaking; sewing; knitting; woodworking; felting; spinning; throwing pottery; using natural dyeing techniques; applying the principles of permaculture; applying sustainable design and construction methods (Jr. Solar Sprints, cradle to cradle, strawbale, etc.); painting; collage work; printmaking; observing and drawing as meditation (seeing vs. looking); gesture drawings; and storytelling through design.
  • Nourishing: Sustenance & Fulfillment: focuses on our relationship with ourselves, our community, our ecosystem and our planet for the nourishment of all our many dimensions. This KLE explores the primal relationship between life and food, the critical connection between caring for the earth and caring for ourselves, as well as the notions of happiness, fulfillment and quality of life. As a means of exploring these concepts students will engage in many activities such as: gardening; cooking; seasonal and weather-related observations; visits to and work at local farms; research and debate about current food issues; investigation and self-reflection on being happy; and the effects of food choices on one‘s energy, health, attitude and well-being. They will follow the seasons as they plan, prepare, till, sow and maintain the garden as well as when they gather, prepare, preserve and consume its harvest. Our hope is that by experiencing the skills and self-reflection necessary for holistically nourishing the earth and themselves students will become aware of the choices they can make for deep personal meaning and contentment.

Seasonally Based Trimesters

In an effort to support our innate awareness of and connection to the natural rhythms of the earth and ultimately encourage sustainable human behaviors we have divided our school year into 3 trimesters, which correspond with the 3 seasons of the year during which school occurs – fall, winter and spring. The educational experiences offered during these times draw inspiration from the seasonal elements and seek to further the learner‘s sense of connection. The seasonal focus offers many opportunities for discovering and studying the positional and cyclical impact of our planet‘s placement in and movement through the universe. It offers a first-hand experience of our local bioregion, a comparison point for other bioregions around the world and an exploration of how humans and other organisms have adapted, and continue to adapt, to their environment.

Experiential, Project- & Place-Based, Interdisciplinary Learning

Experiential, project-based, place-based and interdisciplinary learning promote hands-on involvement in the local environment through multi-disciplinary, real world issues. This approach defines the teacher’s role as a facilitator of learning, values the process of learning over the behavioral outcomes, and is based on the premise that learning is a continuous, integrated process, with experience at its foundation. Through direct contact with their local bioregion students develop an in-depth understanding of fundamental ecological principles. By working with others to solve real-world problems, they also develop complex critical thinking and collaborative skills that are at the heart of sustainable living.

Independent Study

Our fundamental belief that all children are intrinsically motivated learners and ultimately capable of directing their own learning drives all elements of our program, especially our Independent Study. At least once a week all students are involved, in developmentally appropriate ways, in the process of identifying personal interests, setting goals, finding resources, planning and following through on projects, documenting their process, self-reflecting, and sharing outcomes. Students are encouraged by Guides and families to identify and pursue their interests and passions as they learn to take responsibility for their choices and share their achievements. Expectations increase as students become more capable and independent in their ability to complete all steps in the Independent Study process and present their work to a larger audience.

Language Arts

The ability to articulate one‘s perceptions and understandings of the world, and to communicate effectively with others, is critical for the achievement of one‘s goals. Doing so in the context of real and practical applications of those skills allows the learner to see the difference that their efforts can make. By using a Reading and Writing Workshop model inspired by Columbia University‘s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, as well as Nancie Atwell‘s work (Lessons That Change Writers and The Reading Zone) for our middle grades, we develop students‘ reading, writing and speaking skills within their own areas of interest. Instruction is embedded in content, topics and books chosen by the students and differentiated based on their abilities.

Mathematics

In order to support all students in acquiring mathematical knowledge, skill, and confidence to become active mathematics learners who can reason about and represent mathematical ideas and relationships, we use Investigations Math and Connected Math Program 2. These programs are inquiry-based and often problem-centered (utilizing a real-world problem as the context for the math topic). While including a focus on the basics, these programs also ask that children develop understanding, flexibility, fluency (both in articulation of ideas and in calculation) and the ability to reason mathematically — skills that are in high demand in today’s high-tech and ever-changing world.

Curriculum Framework (PDF)